East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group in the western Pacific. Rennell, 86 km long x 15 km wide, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site includes approximately 37,000 ha and a marine area extending 3 nautical miles to sea. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake, the largest in the insular Pacific (15,500 ha), is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest, with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The site is under customary land ownership and management.
Outstanding Universal Value
East Rennell is part of Rennell Island, the southernmost island of the Western Pacific, Solomon Islands Group. Rennell Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world, covering an area of 87,500ha at 86km long and 15km wide and is located 250km due south of the Solomon’s capital, Honiara. The World Heritage property occupies the southern third of the island and includes approximately 37,000ha and a marine area that extends 3km offshore. A prominent feature of the property is Lake Tegano, the former lagoon of the atoll, which at 15,000ha is the largest lake in the insular Pacific. Containing many rugged limestone islets the lake’s brackish waters harbour numerous endemic species including an endemic sea snake. The surrounding karst terrain has a dense cover of indigenous forest. Remaining in its natural state, the forest has a rich biodiversity with many endemic species; four species and nine subspecies of land and water birds respectively, one bat and seven land snails.
The property was the first natural property inscribed on the World Heritage List with customary ownership and management. Approximately 1,200 people of Polynesian origin occupy four villages within the boundaries of the property, living mainly by subsistence gardening, hunting and fishing. Frequent cyclones can have severe consequences for the local people and the biota, and rising lake water levels from climatic change are adversely affecting some staple food crops.
Criterion (ix): East Rennell demonstrates significant on-going ecological and biological processes and is an important site for the science of island biogeography. The property is an important stepping stone in the migration and evolution of species in the western Pacific and for speciation processes, especially with respect to avifauna. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the property is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The unmodified forest vegetation contains floral elements from the more impoverished Pacific Islands to the east and the much richer Melanesian flora to the west. For its size, Rennell Island has a high number of endemic species, particularly among its avifauna and also harbours 10 endemic plant species.
The wildlife includes 11 species of bat (one endemic) and 43 species of breeding land and water birds (four species and nine subspecies endemic respectively). The invertebrate life is also rich with 27 species of land snail (seven endemics) and approximately 730 insect species, many of which are endemic. The flora of Lake Tegano is dominated by more than 300 species of diatoms and algae, some of which are endemic. There is also an endemic sea snake in the lake.
East Rennell encompasses a number of marine, coastal and forest values, combined in one place and in a relatively undisturbed state. The clearly defined boundaries of the property encompass Lake Tegano as well as a continuous expanse of surrounding forest-covered karst terrain. The property also includes a marine area extending 3km offshore. Apart from subsistence garden cultivation, hunting, fishing and utilisation of forest products for building materials, the natural vegetation is little-modified by human impact and there are no serious invasive species of animals or plants. Both rats and alien land snails, which have decimated fauna of other islands, are absent.
The location of the western boundary, determined by community and administrative borders, is not optimal as it excludes important forest habitat for some species, particularly birds. Previously reported threats from mining and commercial fishing have passed. However, potential logging operations in the lands adjacent to the property, in West Rennell, could have severe adverse impacts on the forests within the property. These forests are intrinsically linked to those of West Rennell and are insufficient on their own to ensure the long-term survival of a number of endemic birds.
Increasing water levels and salinity in Lake Tegano, induced by sea level rise due to climate change, are adversely affecting plant growth in low-lying areas. Of particular concern is the reduced harvest of taro and coconut, both of which are vital staple foods for the local community. Of particular importance and significance is the support for conservation from the local community.
Protection and management requirements
All land, islands and marine reefs within the property are under customary ownership, which is acknowledged in the Constitution of the Solomon Islands and the 1995 Customs Recognition Act. East Rennell is also protected under a National Protected Areas Act, passed in 2010 and administered by a recently established Ministry of the Environment. The legislation is focused on biodiversity conservation and explicitly applies to World Heritage properties, but it requires a Provincial Ordinance and local regulations and by-laws to empower the traditional owners and make it fully effective at the local level. The property has a management plan as well as an action plan for implementation. The management plan requires more specific policies to address vulnerabilities and threats including mining, logging, over-exploitation of coconut crabs and marine resources and invasive species and has no timeline or budget. Customary values and traditional management practices are not detailed in the plan, though a recent scoping study has begun the task of addressing this gap.
The recently created Lake Tegano World Heritage Site Association, comprising some 250 community members, has established a representative committee to co-ordinate management activities. The committee, recognised by the Government, requires funding, office and communication facilities and a presence or counterpart focal point in either the provincial or national Governments to ensure it is effective.
Heritage management and capacity-building projects, conducted by foreign donor Governments and international NGO’s, have provided beneficial outcomes including: enhanced awareness and understanding of World Heritage obligations on the part of the community, Government officials and other stakeholders; better co-ordination and co-operation in community management activities; improved survey and monitoring of natural resources; a strengthened legal basis for protection and management; and initial arrangements for twinning East Rennell with an Australian property.
The ability of the traditional owners to adequately protect and manage the natural values and resources of the property is limited by a lack of funding, capacity and resources. In particular, they require funding and substantial rural development aid in the form of improved communication and transport facilities, health and medical services, education resources and income-generating small business enterprises based on sustainable uses of the natural resources. The isolation of the property and the consequent restricted access, requiring long- distance travel on infrequent and unreliable air services and extremely difficult overland travel assist in protection of the property but have also impacted on attempts to develop eco-tourism. Restricted transport links also hinder the ability of the community to obtain food and medical supplies, and to access markets for locally produced products.
Future priorities for management of the property include: full implementation of legal and planning provisions; community capacity-building and empowerment for managing projects and natural resources; and increased sources of sustainable funding, including income generation, to improve the standard of living of the traditional owners and enhance their ability to protect the property to World Heritage standards.
The site of East Rennell is located on the southern third of Rennell Island which is the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group. Rennell is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The island is subject to relatively frequent hurricanes which are a major factor affecting the island. Rennell was formed by the uplift of corals which formed on an undersea ridge and then were subject to faulting. The landform is a typical jagged and eroded limestone karst rising to 200 m. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake is the largest in the insular Pacific. It is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands.
Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. The three main vegetation types are low scrub forest on the karst ridge, tall forest in the interior and beach flora along Lake Tegano. The lake's flora is dominated by 312 species of diatoms and algae, a small number of which are endemic. There are 10 endemic plants on the island and its flora contains elements from the more impoverished Pacific islands to the east and the much richer Melanesian flora to the west.
Wildlife includes 11 species of bat, one of which is endemic, and 43 bird species, four of which are endemic. An endemic banded sea snake lives in Lake Tegano. The invertebrate life is rich, with 27 species of land snails and 731 insect species. Approximately 800 people of Polynesian origin live in four villages within the area. Subsistence agriculture, fishing and hunting are the bases of the economy. The local people rely on forest products for most construction materials.
The distinguishing features of the site that are not duplicated elsewhere are:
- Rennell is the world's largest raised coral atoll;
- Lake Tegano is the largest lake in the insular Pacific and contains a number of endemic species;
- the forests are largely undisturbed by humans and display a number of adaptations to the effects of the frequent cyclonic storms;
- for its size Rennell Island has a high number of endemic species, particularly birds;
- within the Pacific, most oceanic islands have been much modified by human activity. On Rennell, these impacts have been relatively light and invasive predators such as rats and alien land snails, which have decimated the fauna of other islands, are absent.
East Rennell has a number of marine, coastal and forest values that are better displayed in other Pacific locations. The fact, however, that the atoll combines them in one place and in a relatively undisturbed state, makes the island a special place in the Papuan biogeographic province. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC